On Cameras, Rumours and the Problems with Workshops

Ming Thein is rapidly setting himself up as the enfant terrible of the photographic blogging community. Last week he tantalised his readers to guess the identity of a mystery camera which, he implied, had been given to him by a manufacturer to review. It was, he claimed, a camera that was “light, portable and sits in a class of its own amongst all cameras I have used.” However he cautioned it was a device which “you must know what you’re doing to get a decent image out of it, and if you do, it’ll reward you in unexpected ways. Further, it was “the first camera I’ve ever used whose specifications are utterly irrelevant. ‘More than sufficient’ is really the best description, and to a surprisingly wide variety of applications.”  Included in the post were several pictures (of his usual compositionally excellent quality) taken with this camera to prove it was capable of taking more than decent quality images (maybe).

The post received several tens of comments (some actually guessing the mystery cameras identity) and up to 5000 hits per hour at one point.

This week Ming revealed that the camera was actually a 2012 Nikon Coolpix L25 that he had forgotten he owned or where it had come from.

So what exactly was the point of this post? Was it really just a test, a tease, a come on to see how many of his gullible readers would be lured into argument and discussion about who made the camera, when it would be available, what features it would have and how it compared with the competition? Ming has always maintained, quite rightly, that photography should not be about what is the latest and greatest camera but should actually be about making photographs. Photography should be about the software (and no I don’t mean Photoshop) rather than the hardware. In the hands of a skilled photographer who understands how to use light, composition and colour (or lack of) any camera is ‘good enough’ whether it be a sub $100 point-and-shoot, a mobile phone or a high-end digital SLR. To prove this he did indeed include some nice images made with the Coolpix that many would claim could only have been made using a camera ten times or more the price.

It should also be said however that judging by the number of hits his post received, and the commentary that ensued, he did show there is a lot of interest generated by this type of rumour mongering article that a more straight forward one called “my Coolpix portfolio” almost certainly would not have generated. And let’s face it the rumour sites that exist on the internet wouldn’t be there if people didn’t flock to them to try and get early notice of when the next version of their favourite gadget was to be released!

The more important point Ming is making though is that having more or better gear is never really going to improve you as a photographer. As he says, “manufacturers, educate your buyers: it’s much easier to sell something of higher value (and higher margin) to somebody who knows why they need it” or as he has said more directly in a previous post the future of photography lies in education. Whilst you might expect comments like this from someone who earns at least some of his income from producing training videos and running workshops in my experience it is definitely true. One of the reasons I settled on Olympus as a brand a couple of years ago now was as much to do with the learning community that exists around it as it was to do with the cameras themselves. That said I still think there is scope (and therefore an opportunity for someone) to improve the average workshop experience, especially in the area that interests me the most – portrait photography.

Over the last couple of years I have attended several such workshops (see here, here and here for example), some paid and some free or subsidised by manufacturers. Whilst each of these workshops has nearly always provided me with some learning points and some experiences of value I have recently started to think that none have given me the complete experience that I’m after. Here’s a list of some of the things I think are missing or inadequate.

  • Not enough hands-on shooting time. Many times the workshop leader has shown how he or she goes about setting up lights etc but does not give the participants enough time to experiment on their own.
  • Use lighting that is too expensive, too big or out of reach of the novice photographer. This is particularly true of workshops sponsored by makers of studio lighting.
  • Too much chatter. Whilst it’s nice to get stories and some background on why a particular light set up works or doesn’t, sometimes I can’t help but think the personality of the photographer gets in the way a bit too much!
  • Not convinced the tutor uses the equipment. Again, with some workshops sponsored by a manufacturer, I’ve sometimes thought the person running the workshop has only just read the manual himself!
  • Too many people. Workshops that have 20 or more people seated around whilst the photographer does his or her stuff don’t really work for me. This is especially true if you are supposed to be getting some shooting experience yourself where you may be able to only shoot 2 – 3 frames before being asked to move on so the next person can “have a go”.
  • Not used to working with a model so don’t get the best out of the session. When a model is provided and attendees are given the chance to do some shoots themselves it can sometimes be a bit intimidating directing a model; especially a professional one.
  • Don’t get an idea of the overall workflow. Image capture is just the start, it would sometimes be nice to get an idea of how to post process the image to create a really stunning final product that a client would want to pay for.
  • No way of showing work as it is made. Whilst screens on the back of cameras are pretty big these days they are not adequate for showing the images as they are taken. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to crane my neck to peer into the back of a camera as the photographer waves it in front of everyone.

So what would I do differently? What would my perfect workshop look like? Stay tuned, as they say, I’m working on it!

One Reply to “On Cameras, Rumours and the Problems with Workshops”

  1. […] Previously I discussed some of the problems I felt there were with the portrait photography workshops I had attended over the last 2-3 years. To be clear, I’m not saying any of these were bad, indeed some, if not most, were actually very good. I feel however there is currently a bit of a gap in the market for a more complete learning experience. Something that would address the issues identified in my previous post. Here then is what I would do if I were running a portrait workshop to address some of these gaps. This would be my marketing blurb for my off-camera flash workshop. […]

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